Rescuers on Tuesday pulled out the first of 41 workers trapped 17 days ago in a tunnel under construction in northern India, and authorities expect all workers to be out in about three hours.
"The first one has already come out," a rescue engineer Chandran told reporters at the exit of the tunnel in the town of Silkyara, in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
A spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain, told a news conference this afternoon that it will take three to five minutes for each worker to leave.
"In total, three or four hours" for all the workers to get out under the rubble, Hasnain said.
Workers were trapped in the early hours of November 12 when a section of a tunnel under construction collapsed, separating them from the entrance by a blanket of rubble about 60 meters thick.
Since then, and after more than two weeks of drilling, carried out mainly by a tunnel boring machine that broke down last Friday, the last part of the excavation to rescue them was carried out by three teams of mousetrap miners, specialized in making their way through narrow tunnels, despite the risk involved.
Rescuers finally managed to complete the installation of a pipe about a meter in diameter and about 60 meters long on Tuesday, the chief minister of the northern state of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, said on the social network X.
Up to 41 ambulances are now waiting outside the tunnel, first to transfer people to a makeshift hospital at the crash site, before taking them to the district hospital with the help of military helicopters.
The workers are predictably very weakened despite the fact that they have received food, water and medicine, as well as oxygen, since the day of the collapse thanks to a narrow pipe that connected their cavity to the entrance.
The rescue of the workers, which has lasted more than 400 hours (almost 17 days), experienced numerous setbacks since its beginning that significantly delayed the deadline expected by the authorities to get them out alive, after small collapses, metal obstacles that prevented drilling, or breakdowns in the tunnel boring machines.